Christmas is for Children – meditations on John 1

“In the beginning was the Word.
The Word was with God,
and the Word was God.
He existed in the beginning with God.
God created everything through him,
and nothing was created except through him.
The Word gave life to everything that was created,
and his life brought light to everyone.
The light shines in the darkness,
and the darkness can never extinguish it.

He came into the very world he created, but the world didn’t recognize him. He came to his own people, and even they rejected him. But to all who believed him and accepted him, he gave the right to become children of God. They are reborn—not with a physical birth resulting from human passion or plan, but a birth that comes from God.


So the Word became human and made his home among us. He was full of unfailing love and faithfulness. And we have seen his glory, the glory of the Father’s one and only Son.


God’s unfailing love and faithfulness came through Jesus Christ. No one has ever seen God. But the unique One, who is himself God, is near to the Father’s heart. He has revealed God to us.”

Christmas is for children – I’ve heard that said many times. Picture the wonder and excitement of children as they anticipate the bountiful gifts that will be given to them. Their shining faces and their bright eyes. The stringing of Christmas lights, getting out decorations, and the joyous event – helping to decorate the Christmas tree! Think of the delight of children helping to bake and decorate Christmas cookies. That seemingly endless supply of cookies, candy canes, fudge; it sometimes seems like Christmas is one giant sugar high for children!

But, what is Christmas really? Christmas is, in essence, a gift exchange, but on a much higher level.

The Word. The One who was fully God and yet His own person, chose to give Himself to make all of who God is known to the likes of you and me. The Word, in order to reach us, resolved to become one of us, but how to do that? The Word could have come in glory, with the splendor of thousands of angels blaring trumpets, announcing His entry. He could have come in majesty as the son of the most powerful king on earth. He could have come in power and simply overcome all nations. And how long would He stay? The Word could come and make a quick inspection, with a few suggestions on how we could improve. Or He could come for a friendly visit, spend some “quality time” with us and then be on His way.

But, no, none of that would do. The Word resolved that He must fully identify with us if He were to come at all. He must come to dwell with us, to stay for a lifetime. So he chose to start as we all do. The Word became a tiny, little embryo, embraced by the womb of a young woman. He grew within her, and was born, just like each one of us.

And with that birth the Word became Jesus, born in Bethlehem, the son of Joseph; later to be called the Christ, the Anointed One of God. He chose to be born in humble circumstances, in a tiny, forgotten nation, to a people known to worship the only true God.

So God gave us Jesus as a baby in a manger, so Jesus could give his life for us as a Savior.

Now, when God gave us Jesus, what was heaven like? The angels murmured. “Jesus, gone to live on earth! But how can heaven be the same if Jesus is – there?”

Every gift that has ever been given is given at a cost. The cost of Jesus becoming man was a temporary, but very real separation of Jesus from the Father and Holy Spirit while he dwelt in a human body. Did the heart of God the Father ache while Jesus was with us in a humble, human body? We may never know for sure.

But we do know that God gave us Jesus as the way for us to have a good relationship with Him. To those who received Him, He gave the right to become, listen carefully, children of God! Christmas IS for children – God’s children! It doesn’t matter if you are 9 or 90, any one of us can be a child of God. And what gift do God’s children get on Christmas? Why, only the best – they get Jesus Himself.

You and I may not have the best the world has to offer, we may not be in the best of circumstances, we may not BE the best of people – but we have been given God’s best – Jesus.

And what does it mean if we have been given Jesus? It means that we have hope. We have God’s promise that we will experience true life – eternal life, with no more sorrow, no more tears. We will share in His victory over death, we will someday no longer struggle with doubt, fear, evil, aging, compulsions; we will be freed to be all that God originally designed us to be.

So Christmas really is for children. Christmas is an intimate gift exchange. We receive the gift of life from God through Jesus. But an exchange requires giving from both parties. What is to be our gift to God? What could we give to God that He would value, that He could even appreciate?

It’s very simple really, when he sent Jesus as a gift to us, he was basically saying “I love you.” What He wants from us is just to hear those four special words:

“I love you, too.”

Originally posted Monday, January 2, 2012

STILLBORN

   Unplanned surprise suddenly expecting.
We embraced the life that was growing within
      But God knew we would never
           hold this child in our arms
                                                           hear her laughter
                                                                                          see her smile.

We had moved our family, prepared a place
    in anticipation
                              of her arrival
         Only to find
She would never come home.

A child unborn
   Yet how deeply she moved our hearts.

I wonder sometimes as I look around
          Who is born and who is stillborn.
      Kicking and stretching – showing signs of life
Moving towards the moment of birth

           Jesus has gone to prepare a place
    for them
Yet they will never come home.

I understand now
  The tears we shed for our Bethany
       are but an echo of
           the tears our Lord sheds for

His Own
                    Stillborn.

 

This was written many years ago after we lost our daughter.

A Tajik Love Story

Best recollection of the story as told by Zhenya to Paul Hypki

Olga is from the northern part of Tajikistan, near Khujand, and Zhenya is from Dushanbe. Olga is a pretty blue-eyed blonde and Zhenya is a tall, handsome Korean man. They both attended a Bible League sponsored seminar on worship conducted by Dave and June Bullock several years ago and that’s where our story begins.
Zhenya and Olga

While at the seminar, Zhenya and Olga met and became acquainted. Zhenya decided he would like Olga’s address so he could perhaps get to know her better, so one day he sat in the same row of chairs as Olga. He handed the person next to him a piece of paper and asked him to write down his address. Then he asked that the sheet be passed on to get other people’s addresses – what a crafty man! After the seminar ended, they wrote each other a couple times and exchange photographs. Zhenya put Olga’s picture in the back of his Bible, but as time passed, life was busy and they both forgot about the other.

A year or so later, Zhenya began thinking it was time for him to get married. He began praying that God would show him who the right woman would be for him. He had determined a set of criteria that any woman would have to meet to be considered as a candidate for marriage. 1) She had to be a Christian. 2) She had to be serving in Christian ministry. 3) She had to like kids and youth. 4) He would really prefer it if she had blonde hair. 5) He would like her to have a good figure. 6) She should be two to three inches shorter than he is. He prayed for some time about finding a wife who met these criteria.

One day as he was praying for a wife, he opened his eyes, and there was the picture of Olga staring at him. It evidently had slipped out of the back of his Bible while he was praying. He looked at her picture. Was this God’s answer? He checked his criteria. Christian – yes; involved in ministry – yes; likes kids – yes; blonde hair – yes; a good figure – yes; a little shorter than he – yes. All six!

Zhenya send Olga a letter asking her if she was planning to attend the next Bible League seminar, but she was still in school and had exams that week, so she could not come. Zhenya was very disappointed – how was he going to ever see her again?

He decided not to attend the seminar, but then changed his mind at the last moment. He walked into the classroom, and there she was! He was amazed. So at one of the breaks, he approached her and said he had something serious to speak to her about. But Olga wasn’t feeling well and declined to talk to him. Now what?

The next day he tried again. Today Olga agreed to talk with Zhenya. He told her he had been praying for a wife and that he was wondering if she would consider dating him.
Now about the time Zhenya was praying for and saw Olga’s picture, her heart remembered and warmed to Zhenya. So when Zhenya asked her if she was interested in dating him, she immediately said yes. They spend the next few days as boyfriend and girlfriend, spending time together, holding hands, talking about their dreams. But, then the seminar ended. Olga went back home and back to school. This time they continued writing each other.

A short time later, Zhenya worked up the courage to visit her family to talk to her father. He was very worried. It is difficult enough for a young man to ask a man for his daughter in marriage, but he is Korean. What would Olga’s father think?

He arrived in Khujand and found Olga’s house. He had told Olga that he was coming, and Olga’s mother was glad to meet him. But her father was nowhere to be found. Zhenya waited and waited, but her father never came home. Zhenya left that evening very discouraged.

The next day Zhenya decided to try again, but this time he would come unannounced. He looked in the window, and there was Olga’s father, sitting in a chair watching television. Zhenya went around the back of the house and came in the kitchen. Olga and her mother coached him, encouraged him, and pushed him into the room with her father. Zhenya introduced himself. Olga’s father ignored him and continued watching TV. Zhenya tried several times to start a conversation, but Olga’s father just kept watching TV. Finally, Zhenya went back to the kitchen – “What am I supposed to do?” he pleaded. So they strategized in the kitchen and decided that all three of them would approach her father. They all entered the room where Olga’s father was sitting. Her mother turned off the TV. Zhenya explained his love for and desire to marry Olga.

Olga’s father wasn’t impressed. He told Zhenya he wasn’t sure and he would have to think about it. Zhenya explained that he loved Olga so much he would even consider eloping and marrying her without his blessing. But Olga’s father still need time to think about it.

Zhenya returned to Dushanbe, still without Olga’s father’s blessing. But Olga and her mother kept working on him and several days later, Olga’s father reluctantly agreed to allow Zhenya and Olga to marry.

In June 2005, Zhenya and Olga became man and wife. They are a beautiful couple, obviously very much in love with each other and the Lord Jesus.

Dad didn’t come to the ceremony – he’s still thinking about it.

Originally posted April 28, 2007

Dancing with your spouse

dancingpicture0002
Mary is on the left. 

My wife, Mary, and I started taking ballroom dance lessons a few months before my son, Peter’s wedding in October 2006. We enjoyed the lessons, had fun learning together and we have continued taking some lessons. We have also learned that dancing with your wife and living with your wife have some remarkable similarities.

We often read in the Bible that the man is the head and most teaching emphasizes that the wife must submit to the husband. In reality, the Bible teaches that the man must submit, too, but that’s another topic. So what have we learned in our dance classes?

First of all, dancing with someone takes a lot of work. Neither of us had a lot of experience dancing, but we had to start somewhere. They didn’t exactly paint big letters R and L on our shoes, but we sure spent a lot of time looking at our feet. We would learn some basic dance step, then practice it a million times, until we were adequate, then they would teach us a new dance step, and it felt like we were starting all over again! But we kept at it.

As happens when dancing with a partner, there are times I make a mistake, there are times when Mary makes a mistake, and there are times when we both mess up. But, oh, it so much fun when we both get it right and can actually dance well for a few minutes.

Then one night, Mr. Otero explained to us that when the man makes a mistake, it is the man’s fault. And when the woman makes a mistake, it is the man’s fault. This didn’t seem fair to me, but the man is responsible to properly lead the woman, and not allow her to make mistakes.
We also learned the proper way to start a dance. It’s not the caveman move, where the guy drags a woman where he wants her and starts dancing. The man asks the woman – the man is taking the initiative, but giving the woman the choice. Assuming she gives her consent, the man then escorts the woman to the floor, and the dancers get into position to dance. But the man is not allowed to begin dancing until the woman is ready, which she signifies by putting her left hand on the man’s right arm. Then the man has permission from her to start. And off you go!

The man is then expected to lead. If he wants the woman to spin around, he has to give her a signal, such as lifting her arm, which tells her what he would like her to do. If he wants to change direction, or perform some other turn, he is always communicating what he wants to her. The woman is expected to follow. I’m told that is not always the easiest thing to do. (Remember that Ginger Rogers did everything Fred Astaire did, except backwards and in heels!) It is especially difficult for the woman if the man is not giving a strong lead, communicating well or in a timely fashion what it is he would like the woman to do. Often the man is surprised that they actually completed the last move, and has not thought ahead far enough to know WHAT he wants to do next.

But over time, with lots of coaching, our dancing has improved significantly. We’re not great dancers, and never will be, but we have a solid foundation and enough confidence in our dancing together that we will actually dance in public!
So, do I even need to explain the correlations to marriage? Good communication, thinking ahead, mutual respect, willingness to accept blame, getting better over time. The most important thing we have found is that the more we practice, the better we get. The better we get, the more we enjoy it, and the more time we spend together dancing.

12822882-crazy-man-dancing
P.S. A couple weeks ago, we took a special group class with Tony Dovolani, who has been on the popular Dancing with the Stars television program. He basically taught us how to move our hips: it was good. But there was one comment he made that caught my attention. He asked, “When you are dancing, who is leading?” In unison, we all obediently said “The man leads.” Tony said, “No, that’s not right!” We were all stunned – we’ve always been told the man leads. Then Tony went on and said, “When you dance together, the man does not lead, the music does.”
The more I think about that the more I like this idea. Jesus is the song that rises up in my heart, but he is not just for me. He is the one that Mary and I both must stay in step with – together.
Originally posted August 24, 2008

The Clubhouse

So, our local baseball club has started the season 0 and 23. Every game has been lost by default, mainly because the team refuses to come out of the Clubhouse. I managed to visit the Clubhouse after their 23rd loss and talked with a few of the players.

Rog said that this was his first year on 0628_clubhouse21any Club. He was really excited to get into the game, but some of the guys who had been around for a while “showed him the ropes,” so he’s following their lead. Rog admitted that before the third game, he actually left the Clubhouse and made it all the way to the dugout, but then he saw all the people in the stands, and the opposing team looked pretty formidable. He noticed he was the only one in the dugout, so he headed back to the Clubhouse to be with his teammates.

Doc was really talkative and a really fun guy to have around. He plays a lot of practical jokes, and gets the guys to open up and talk. Doc makes the Clubhouse a fun place to be. The problem is Doc’s more of a night owl, and he often doesn’t get home until its getting light again, so Doc doesn’t even make it to the Clubhouse at all some days.

Ruben has been around for a while, and has some injuries that cause him a lot of pain. The whirlpool and massage just do wonders for him. So he will often come in and get his massage and spend some time in the whirlpool then catch a bite to eat before heading home.

Tank tells me the buffet they put out for the team is fantastic! He said he has never had such good food with any other team, that’s why he loves this Clubhouse so much! He has the menu memorized every day, and helped me get a plateful of food like I haven’t had in a long, long time. The lobster tail was amazing, and the Death by Chocolate mousse was top notch. Tank admitted he’s put on a few pounds since joining the Club, but assured me it was worth it.

I visited with a couple rookies in the film room. They were studying film, and picking apart the opposing pitchers in the league. They were able to point out subtle little things that these other players that were doing that were all wrong – if they ever faced them, they would be able to read the unwitting signals opposing players were giving, and just tear them to pieces. But they both said they needed to spend more time in the film room before they even thought about dressing for a game.tumblr_lu7m4hmcsq1qaqgclo1_500

Management brought in the best coaches available, modern equipment, all the resources this Club could ever need to win. I was really impressed with every person in this organization – they have great chemistry on this Club! This is a Club that wants to win, that has one of the best Clubhouses around, great coaching. And some day, when they take the field, they will be awesome!

The local church is our Clubhouse. It’s where we go to encourage one another. To learn. To heal. To rest.

But the local church is not why we are here. There is a game to be played; a battle to fight. And it’s not against another team, it’s against the evil spiritual forces that oppose God and his people. We are called to attend our local church so we can charge out of the Clubhouse, get on the field, and have a “winning season.” We won’t win every game, but we know in the end, the championship is secure.

Jesus Christ, God in a body, is the reason we gather. He is the reason we go out into a hostile world and share the gospel with those who have never heard. Or those who have heard and not yet understood. Or those who have been predisposed against the gospel and need to see it lived out before their very eyes. If we stay in the Clubhouse, we have missed the reason we are on this team.

We don’t get people to join the Club by inviting them into the Clubhouse. We get people to join the Club when they see what the Club does, how passionate the Club members are about what the Club is doing (living a life of worshiping God). The Club only has any impact when it is out on the playing field, doing what they are intended to be doing.

Each Club member is welcome in the Clubhouse any time, but the Clubhouse is not the most important place in the Club’s life. The Club needs to study the play book, to understand the fundamentals of the game. The Club needs to work out, to exercise, to practice on their own so they will be ready. Sometimes the Club will have meetings where more extensive training and instruction is given. They are expected to attend these training sessions and learn all they can to be better players.

We have one life. When we are with Jesus for eternity, we will no longer be able to engage in the sport of bringing people who are spiritually dead the Good News that Jesus is LIFE.

So go to your local “Clubhouse.” Spend some time there. And then get out and play ball!

Originally posted Sunday May 10, 2009

WWJD or WIJD?

A few years ago, everybody was talking about WWJD. People were wearing WWJD bracelets and putting WWJD bumper stickers on their cars. There were WWJD tee-shirts and pencils, even WWJD Bibles.

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The premise was that when you found yourself in a “situation” where you were not sure what to do, you simply asked yourself “What Would Jesus Do?” Then you would know exactly what to do! Very simple conceptually, and I really do think this slogan has helped many people make better decisions about significant life choices.

Is WWJD Consistent?
Problem is, WWJD never got me excited. There was something that just didn’t smell right and I could never quite put my finger on it. Until today.

WWJD? First of all, there is precious little we can do to find out what the historical Jesus of the Gospels was really like. None of us have ever met Jesus in the flesh. (Did he speak slowly? Did he have a good sense of humor? Did he look people in the eye when he taught?) What we know about Jesus is primarily from reading the four canonical Gospels, which in my Bible only take up 105 pages. We get very little additional insight into the “historical Jesus” by reading the rest of the New Testament. Much of the Gospels are filled with the actions of Jesus and the reactions of the people around him. There is nothing recorded about how Jesus made decisions – no “Seven Steps to Godly Decisions.” We just read of Jesus being thrust into incredibly complex, difficult circumstances and are amazed at his insight and wisdom in how he manages each situation.

Then there is also the fact that many of us have not taken the time to get to know Jesus very well. Most Christians will agree that we can meet with Jesus anytime through prayer and this should be a priority in our lives. But I’ve heard it said that if you want to humble a Christian, simply ask them about their prayer life. We boldly tell others we can know Jesus personally, but find we are so busy we simply don’t take the time. And when the going gets tough, that is when most of us rugged, independent westerners decide we need to take action – usually without talking to Jesus first.

And then, what is the “right” answer? When you ask a group of people What Would Jesus Do in a specific situation; you will often get as many answers as there are people in the room. The problem is that deep down we have a natural tendency to believe that God thinks much the same way we do. Many people’s image of Jesus is a mirror of themselves, or who they aspire to be. So to ask people with limited historical knowledge of Jesus, with little personal time with Jesus, “What Would Jesus Do” is leaving the door open to many, many different answers.

Finally, when we ask WWJD, what are we thinking about Jesus? Are we even thinking that Jesus is present? I fear that for many of us, the expanded version of WWJD is something like this: “Jesus was a great moral teacher, but he died a long time ago, so what might he have done if he were alive and in this situation?” Jesus was a great moral teacher and he did die nearly 2,000 years ago. But Jesus is not dead – He is alive! He is here now and will guide us in our difficult situations. But even though we believe Jesus is alive, we still often do not act as if he is present. What Would Jesus Do implies that we need to take it upon ourselves to figure out what Jesus would have done in this situation as best as we can based on what we know of him. Once we have figured that out, then we make a decision on whether we will choose to do what we think Jesus would have done. Then we buckle down and exert effort and discipline to do what Jesus would have done!

The Alternative – WIJD?
I once asked a friend why God keeps us here on earth. Since we continue to sin, and when we get to heaven we will no longer sin, wouldn’t it be better if God would take us home as soon as we come to faith? We then discussed how God chooses to continue to bring people to faith by working through his people – those who are already in the Kingdom. Each and every one of us is kept here with a purpose – to expand the Kingdom of God in our neighborhood.

What I have come to realize is that Jesus is still alive today. He is not on vacation, sitting at God’s right hand enjoying mangos and passion fruit, waiting for the his grand entrance at the Second Coming. He is active in this world. And Jesus, through the Holy Spirit, is working through those who have received Him. So the question is not What Would Jesus Do? but rather: What Is Jesus Doing?

The big picture here is: “Jesus is God crammed into a body, he is alive, he indwells me by his Holy Spirit and he is engaged in the current situation. What is it that Jesus wants to do, right now, through me?” This reframing of the context significantly changes our responsibilities. WWJD is an intellectual, analytical evaluation of a situation. Then we have a moral choice whether to do what our analysis determined is the right course of action. WIJD is a decision to turn to God in the moment, and ask him to act through us. It is asking to be filled with and led by the Holy Spirit so that our words and our actions are not our own, but rather guided by the Spirit of Jesus who lives in us. In this way we can be Jesus to the world around us.

So the next time you find yourself in a difficult situation (or any situation,) ask yourself: WIJD? What Is Jesus Doing – through me?

Originally posted sunday, april 15, 2007

Built it, but will they come?

This is from the book The Hidden Half, over 40 years old, but is such an excellent story, I had to post it!

Marilyn Laszlo is a missionary with Wycliffe Bible Translators. She told a story recently that summarizes the heart cry of the unreached people of the world.

roberson_sepik-river-papua-new-guinea20small

For the past thirteen years I have been working in Hauna, a little village which is 500 miles up the Sepik River in the heart of the jungle in Papua New Guinea, an island just north of Australia.

On the island of Papua New Guinea, there are over 700 distinct languages, most of which are unwritten. Actually, there are over 3,000 language groups in the world that have no written language. They do not even have an alphabet, much less any books.

That is the way it was in Hauna Village, home of the Sepik Iwam people. They had no idea that the words that came out of their mouths could be written down.

My partner and I were given training in linguistics and we began learning the language one word at a time by pointing to objects and by acting out concepts. Eventually the Lord gave us a team of fourteen translation helpers to work with.

When we started translating, I became very burdened about the older people in the village. The witch doctors were being left out. They are the most powerful men in the village and are always busy because there is always someone sick or someone dying.

My partner and I wanted to have these older men come from 6:30 to 7:30 every night, after we had translated that day. So we had our translation helpers go out in teams of two to each of the four clans in the village and get one older man from each clan to join them.

Every day these witch doctors or “spitters” came to listed to the Word of God. Their word for doctor is inkam hiiswoki, which means “the man who spits” or “the spitter.” If you have malaria the spitters take a sharp bamboo and cut your forehead where it hurts to let out the bad blood. Then they chew on a plant that supposedly contains a very powerful spirit, and they spit and blow into those cuts. This is the power that will help heal you.

We had translated a portion of the Gospel of Mark, chapter eight. As we were reading these verses we came to verse 23, the story of Jesus spitting on the eyes of the blind man to heal him. Now we have blind people in the village, but no medicine man has been able to heal them. So when we read this verse, the older men jumped up and said, “Wow! Why Jesus must be the most powerful spitter in the whole world!” From that day they started coming to church. They identified with this spitting man, Jesus, and wanted to know more about him.

As we translated and taught the people to read and write their own language, we became burdened for all of the unreached tribes around us. Hauna was becoming a shining light throughout the area as people started to hear about our work. One day a canoe loaded with fifteen people came for medical help. They spoke another tribal language and came into our house with the smell of their rotting sores and other diseases. I told them in the trade language, Pidgin English, that they must stay in our village at least a week so I could give them a penicillin series for their sores.

While they stayed with us they watched what was going on. They saw 200 people coming to school to learn to read and write their own language. They saw us write God’s talk ion the people’s language and listened to the Sepik Iwam pastors preach the Word of God in their own language.

When it was time for them to go home, the leader asked, “Do you think you could come to my village and put down our talk so that we might know about God, too?”

I had to shake my head and say, “I’m not finished here yet. I have several more years of work in this place/” I could tell he was very disappointed, and I promised that someday I would at least come to visit his village.

Several weeks later, we organized a party to find his village. When we got there, the leader was thrilled to see us. He called everybody to come and see the two white misses. As we were walking through the village I noticed in the center a new building, very different from their regular houses. I asked, “What is that building there in the center of the village?”

He said, “Oh, that is God’s house-that’s our church.”

“Your church? Do you have a mission here?”

“Oh, no, we have never had a mission here.”

“Well, do you have a pastor here – you know, someone that comes to preach God’s Word?”

“Oh, no, we’ve never had a pastor here.”

“Well, is there someone here in the village that can read and write Pidgin English who holds services in your church?”

“Oh, no! There is no one here that can read or write. And we have no books.”

I looked at him and said, “Then what is that building for?”

He said, “Well, we saw the little church in your village and our people decided to build a church, too. Now we’re waiting for someone to come and tell us about God in our own talk.”

I turned and started crying. I have never seen that kind of faith. Out in the middle of the jungle stands that little church, and today they are still waiting – waiting for someone to come and tell them in their own language about Jesus. There are thousands of groups just like them, waiting to hear the Word of God in their own language. They are waiting for you.

originally posted sunday, january 30, 2011